This indie horror on Netflix tries to bring a new take on the shapeshifter horror and doesn’t live up to its potential.
Two brothers, Evan (Isaac Jay) and Payton (Cooper Rowe), go on a hike in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. They run into a group of people who are on a similar hike and Evan hits it off with one of the girls, Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan). Seeing that his brother wants to get laid more than he wants to hike with him, Payton tells Evan to go with their group while he continues to hike. That night, having smoke and drank and partied a bit with the group of nine strangers, Evan is asked to tell a campfire story. He reveals that he doesn’t know any, so they have him read a creepypasta online, which is a poem about a monster named “Hisji” who comes when you call its name five times. Naturally, he reads it five times.
Later, when he is in the hot tub with Zoe, he sees a figure standing in the distance and watching them. The pair go inside and it’s quickly forgotten over the revelry. However, as the weekend goes on, unusual things start to happen. Eventually, it’s revealed that the Hisji has the power to become a doppelganger of the members of the group and control their actions to a certain extent, so chaos and confusion abound.
I’m kind of regretting doing some random horror movies for this series, because I keep getting movies that aren’t particularly memorable. This was the first movie by director and story creator Elle Callahan, so I guess I should give it some leeway, but… well, Murder Party was a low-budget first-time director’s work and it’s way more memorable than this. But, the show must go on.
This probably would have been a really good short film, but it just doesn’t have the power to sustain my attention for 90 minutes. The idea of a monster who appears and can take the shape of anyone has been done before, including in John Carpenter’s The Thing, one of the best horror movies ever made, so this movie tries to set it apart by making the monster obsessed with the number five. Why five? Maybe because Candyman used five and the creators love Tony Todd. Whatever the reason, it’s obsessed with five and a LOT more time in the film was dedicated to that than was necessary. Similarly, a lot of the time was filled by having the teens engage in a lot of activities that people in their forties thing people in their twenties do, like a very awkward game of “Never Have I Ever” or talking about drugging each other. This wouldn’t be so bad if it ever built up to anything, but the stuff they do and say never feels like it actually comes up again later, nor does it really develop any of the characters except maybe Zoe. The movie is relying on a slow-burn, but it feels more like a slog at points. If you can cut 30% of your runtime and nothing is really lost in the movie, then you probably need to reconsider your film.
It also doesn’t help that the movie’s monster seems to be a metaphor for something that doesn’t quite work. Now, if you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m a fan of the traditional use of horror movies as a metaphor, though I don’t think it’s required. In this movie, it feels like the monster was supposed to be a metaphor at the beginning and then about halfway through production, they realized it’s dumb. The movie makes a big point at the beginning of showing that Payton is really into pure living, probably due to a past with drugs (I think they said something about it, but I didn’t write it in my notes and I am NOT rewatching this). He has given Evan a lighter that stays a focus throughout the movie. The group in the movie are all heavy users of marijuana, they clearly also do other drugs, and they drink a lot. While those are all qualities that are pretty common among victims in horror films, in this movie, I feel like in this it’s more fundamental to the story. The monster appears as a different version of the characters and frequently encourages them to indulge in more vices, essentially through peer pressure. Through its machinations, it causes an atmosphere of paranoia and confusion. It could very easily be a metaphor for drug use and how it can destroy you. Even the way that the monster kills people would be easily made into a solid conclusion for that, but… it’s not. I can’t say anything more than that, they just seem like they had a metaphor and then changed it like two-thirds of the way through the movie. But even if they HAD done that, it wouldn’t really have worked, because… they’re kids drinking and smoking pot. That hasn’t really been a thing worth getting killed for since Reefer Madness. Like I said, without the resolution working for it, this doesn’t quite feel like a coherent theme, but I also feel like they have too much about it for it to not have at least been considered.
I also find it weird that this movie essentially just invokes a Creepypasta, with almost no mythology really given for the monster. We find out later in the film that this monster is apparently associated with at least one family dying, so I’m curious if, in the world of this film, someone realizes “holy crap, demon monsters are real” after the movie is over. While I know that a lot of people appreciate movies where the monster is pretty much unexplained, like It Follows, the issue is that the Hisji appears to have no definitive rules, gaining powers as the movie goes on. Since we know basically nothing about it, there’s nothing saying it can’t do that, but by that logic it could spontaneously turn everyone into dolls at the end of the film, and… that probably would have been more interesting.
Overall, this movie isn’t a bad first outing for a director, but it definitely needed a little more flavor.
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